California, Jan 2017
Having just completed the venue’s original and superb Fun House room, and enjoying it immensely, we were offered a bit of a discount to run straight into the Hex room. The Hex room is pitched as a Horror/Thriller experience. There’s some basic theme about a murder to solve, and a killer on the loose but it’s left much to the imagination. Or, at least, the details passed me by whilst we were being briefed. This is a bad habit, formed from sitting through pointless briefings with weak story lines. Whilst this room normally requires 6 people, they offered to find a way of creating a 6th player via a staff member to make it work. Why 6 as a minimum, you might ask? Well, the fascinating thing about the Hex room is the way in which the room dynamic works. Rather than a team, you effectively begin the experience individually, all locked away in separate rooms, with your own personal puzzles to solve. Or, at least, that’s how it appears initially. Up front, there’s a quick questionnaire which effectively works out how likely you are to be scared, how experienced you are at Escape Rooms etc. This is done to put the right people in the rooms they’d likely most enjoy. It’s a clever way of making this a unique experience. Whilst not perfect, chatting over a beer later reinforced how effective this is. I think they got the distribution spot on.
The “detective” role, centrally located in the hub connecting the 5 other rooms is effectively the hardest character to play, needing to coordinate between players, and in some cases help the others out of their temporary confinement. As an individual, locked away, your view of what is going on is extremely limited – a letterbox, a small window, a tiny caged hole. The various excited and exasperated sounds of five team members solving puzzles is simultaneously frustrating (Fear Of Missing Out) as well as distracting (I Can Help, But Can’t)… but somehow it just works. My own mini room was the Basement – a small space, but packed with boxes and dirt and grime. It was probably the least exciting of the spaces, but well staged nonetheless. Some unpleasant surprises added to the amusement and realism, but nothing I would describe as particularly scary or nasty.
One curve ball introduced up front, was the concept of a side quest. Everyone had an extra box, unrelated to the story line. These were related to the various characters we were given, and could be solved in isolation at any time. We managed about half of them. Apparently the “escape and solve all extra boxes” rate is 2%! Escaping full stop, around 20%.
So what makes this so hard? Effectively, it’s the reliance on *every single player* in the team to be able to solve a series of puzzles by themselves. The opportunity for assistance is very limited when you can’t see the puzzles as a team – this is still a lot of fun though. Once I’d personally escaped my basement room in around 25 mins, I was able to free one of the less experienced team members who was totally stumped with a relatively routine book puzzle. Quite a feat given we only had a letterbox to communicate through. It added significantly more to the puzzle solving having to have it visually described. The teamwork aspect was really rewarding – which is especially cool, given the pretty run-of-the -mill puzzle itself. Perhaps my main highlight of the hour was taking a look at the various spaces I had only heard described through shouting and anguish! The rooms are all very (very) well staged, as one might expect in the heart of the US film industry. A lot of care has been taken on the set building, and the whole space is easily the best I’ve seen in an Escape Room. Whilst the set is gruesome and in places graphic, it never veers into being offensive, and I’d suggest would be fine for 14+ age groups if they’re not too sensitive. This is a private room, and you will not be augmented with strangers in the way that’s common in many US based rooms (including the Fun House). Teams of 5 can have a room actor play the part of the detective (I expect, by arrangement). The staff were all excellent and friendly at all times.
The hour flew by – once we’d all made it out of the mini rooms, the murder needed solving, and there were a couple of puzzles left to get to the end of that task. Once there, and we were able to hit that point around 53 mins in, we decided not to leave the room until we’d cracked all of the side quests.
We left “voluntarily” with 20 seconds to spare – using objects we’d found during the whole hour to make our escape. In the end, we’d cracked a couple more side quests, but not all of them, alas. On exiting, we felt absolutely mentally exhausted. The intensity of the theme, the gameplay style and doing a couple of rooms back to back (and the fact our body clocks were saying 5am, not 9pm) had taken its toll, but not in terms of enjoyment.
The Uber driver on the way back to the hotel in Anaheim was half-fascinated and half-disturbed by our frantic discussion and comparison of the various rooms.
This is unlike any other room I’ve played. It is a must play if you happen to be in the Los Angeles area.
Almost two years after Chris’s visit and review, I finally got a chance to try Hex Room myself, two of us teaming up with a group of four lovely Californian enthusiasts who were also playing it for the first time. Which was fortunate, because even more than most escape rooms you need to play this one with a good team. While some communication between the individual cells and the central hub is possible, if one of the group gets too badly stuck they may sink the whole team.
I loved how each player gets a different experience. It would have been easy for the different cells to be simple variations on a theme, but Hex Room is much more creative than that. Each role is distinct, with differences in the decor, in the style of puzzles, in how easily they can communicate with the central chamber. Each player has some solo solving to do, but also some dependencies on specific teammates, as well as their bonus Hex Box as an optional puzzle.
While I echo Chris’s enthusiasm for the room, I think its unique structure has drawbacks that will affect some teams more than others. I find the sweet spot for escape game enjoyment to be between two and four people, and in Hex Room you have too few and then too many players, with a disconcerting change of pace as you shift from a mostly solo game to a very crowded one. And the central Detective role is one that some players may love and others feel short-changed by, since they have to act as the central coordinator and communication hub and therefore have less time on actual solving.
The venue describes it as a replayable game, but I can’t agree – on a repeat visit you’ll have probably somewhere between 30-70% new content. To me that rules out a second playthrough, though fair play to those who like it enough to repeat it.
Escape room state of the art has moved forward in the last couple of years, but Hex Room still impresses. The high quality decor and props are no longer stand-out exceptional, but the game is designed with style and creativity. Although its trademark structure has drawbacks, it’s also what makes Hex Room distinctive and special, and it’s well worth making an effort to try it.